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Prepositions  in English

Definitions:

Prepositions are functional words that express a relation between two elements in a phrase.  Prepositions express a relation of position or direction, of time, of manner, of agent or other relation. Prepositions are followed by a noun, a pronoun, or a noun phrase.

Adverbs are independent words that qualify a verb, expressing manner, direction, degree, place or time. They are not followed by a noun.

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Page index:  Prepositions of position and direction Prepositions of time Prepositions of manner 


English prepositions and prepositional adverbs   


There are less than forty common prepositions in English.
Many prepositions have related adverbs. This page looks at prepositions and adverbs that are semantically related to prepositions, known as prepositional adverbs.
There are several other types of adverb, many of them derived from adjectives.
For more on this, see Adverbs .

  In most cases, prepositions preceed the noun they are referring to, but this is not always the case. They can – indeed sometimes they must – come at the end of a sentence, notably in some relative clauses with omission of who, or in some questions.

Examples:
Prepositions
:  The Queen is at home.  Dinner is on the table.  Go to bed.
Prepositional adverbs:   They're standing outside.  We're going together.

Ending a sentence with a preposition; is it OK ?

Simple answer: yes !  Lots of famous writers have done so.
However sometimes it may be better style to put the preposition in its normal place, before the noun, if this is possible.
Yet sometimes this is not possible or practical. Look at these examples
This is the talented young musician I was talking to you about.
What are you waiting for ?
In these situations - a relative clause with omission of the relative pronoun, and a question requiring a preposition - it is perfectly good, in indeed the best solution possible in modern English, to leave the preposition at the end of the sentence.

Prepositions of position and of direction

The table below lists the most common prepositions of position and of direction, and the related adverbs for each case.
In this table,  less common forms  and rare or equivalent forms are indicated in brackets ( -- ).


Denoting position     Denoting direction
Adverbs Prepositions Prepositions Adverbs
across across
at at, to 1
* in, inside, (within) in, inside, within into in, inwards
outside outside (out), out of  2 out, outwards
(on) on on, onto (on)
(far from) from
overhead over, above 3 over (above) (overhead)
underneath under, (underneath) under, (underneath)
throughout through 
below below below
up upwards
down downwards
far from from
nearby near (nearer)
(alongside) alongside along along
in between between (between)
opposite opposite

Examples:

Adverbs of position:
  • We're staying in tonight.   There's someone inside !  
  • Our friends live nearby.
Prepositions of position:
  •  Our friends live just across the street..
  •  I live in London.   There are people inside the house.
  •  He lives within a mile of the airport  Our house is opposite the post office.  
  • There are problems throughout the  programme.
Prepositions of movement:
  • Please put all those bits into the box      
  • He walked through the town.
  • The child threw his plate onto the floor.
Adverbs of movement:
  • I can't manage to put this nail in.  
  • Look, now it's moving inwards and downwards.

Footnotes:

1.  As prepositions of direction, "at" and "to" are not synonyms. "At" is not common as a preposition of direction, and is only used with the meaning of "towards" or "in the direction of", and then only in some contexts. Compare these two sentences.
     I threw the ball to John.    I threw a cup at John .
You can say "I'm going to London next week",
but it is impossible to say: "I'm going at London next week."

2.  In classic English, "out of" is the normal prepositon of direction.
   Example: "I went out of the house."
But increasingly, particularly in spoken English, the "of" is being dropped, so you are likely to hear: "I went out the house".

3.  There is a small difference between "over" and "above" as prepositions of position. Above means over, but not touching.
So you could say "There are clouds above London",
but it would be strange to say "There is fog above London".

Prepositions of time

English has nine common prepositions of time : only one of these, since, can also be used as an adverb. In other cases, another word or phrase, sometimes quite similar, must be used.

Prepositions Adverbs
Before beforehand, before that, earlier, previously
After afterwards, then, later, subsequently
by thereby
in therein
at whereat, (thereat), whereupon
since since
for
during meanwhile
until

Examples:
  • I'm playing football before lunch ; but earlier I have an English lesson
  • He goes to Paris after London;  after that he's going to Geneva.
  • The package must arrive by the end of the week  / .... by Friday.
  • I'm leaving in five minutes.  /  I like going to England in the summer.
  • We're having lunch today at 12.30.  /  Everyone applauded at the end of the concert.
  • Online ticket sales began at 8 a.m, whereupon the whole programme crashed.
  • I've lived in London since the start of 1995  /  .... since I was a child. 1
  • I'm going to New York for a week in the summer
  • He worked in Dubai for three years.  / ... for many years. 2
  • During the holidays, he won the National Lottery.3
  • He's getting a new apartment tomorrow; meanwhile he's staying in a hotel.
  • My brother's staying in London until Friday.

Notes:
1.  Since is used with moments in time, or with units of time, but not with numeric quantities
       We cannot say:  since three weeks.  Since can also be used as an adverb, with no following noun, and sometimes strengthened with ever, as in :
    He moved to Oxford in 1990, and he's been there ever since .
 For is used with numerals (or undefined quantities) – See Since and for
3. During is used with periods of time; it is not used before numerals.

Other Prepositions - manner and other relations


English has seven common prepositions of manner, relation or  agent:  against, among, by, for, with, without, except

Examples
  • Manchester United are playing against Real Madrid next week.
  • He was just one among many candidates.
  • The Harry Potter books were written by J.K.Rowling.
  • I've just bought a present for my mother.
  • I'm going to England next week with my girlfriend.
  • You can't play football without a ball
  • I told everyone except my brother..

And a few more prepositions:

Apart from these common prepositions, English has several more words or phrases that can be used as prepositions.
  A few examples:
      Apart from,  following, amid,  via,  per,



Prepositions exercise : test how well you can use English propositions . This exercise is part of  the worksheet accompanying the advanced-level English article on Ellis Island. You may like to read the article first.
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